This series, the Eastern Conference Finals, is justifying the “break glass in case of emergency” manner in which the Miami Heat handled Dwyane Wade this season.
Wade, nursing chronically sore knees and a variety of other ailments, seldom resembles the high-flyer who challenged for an MVP trophy in 2008-09. Not at 32 and not after 11 years worth of collisions with floors and opponents.
That Dwyane Wade—the one we all referred to as “Flash”—is still in there, lurking. But after sitting out 28 regular season games and posting the lowest scoring average since his rookie year (19 points per game) and playing fewer minutes per game than he ever had before (32.9 per game), there were questions about how often we’d see that guy.
The first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals have been a renaissance for D-Wade. Coming off his most efficient shooting season ever—54.5 percent of his field-goal tries hit bottom—Wade is the quintessential savvy veteran at this point.
He knows what to do, how to do it and—most importantly of all for his creaky knees and sometimes reluctant hamstrings—when to do it.
Wade hit 3-of-4 from 3-point range en route to a 23-point performance Saturday night as the Miami Heat came back from a big first-half hole to beat the Indiana Pacers 99-87 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, grabbing a 2-1 series lead.
Wade scored all of those points in the final three periods and 10 of them in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left that capped a 33-point outburst for the Heat and gave them a 71-64 lead heading into the final 12 minutes.
That represented a third of Wade’s season total from deep. Wade was only 9-for-32 from 3-point range this season—career lows in both makes and attempts—and prior to Game 3, Wade had only made one trifecta in six attempts.
Teammate Chris Bosh said the age thing with Wade is overblown to begin with, though.
“I don’t know why people keep acting like he’s 47 out there playing; you’d think he was (Heat assistant coach Bob) McAdoo out there playing,” Bosh said. “He’s 32 and in the prime of his career. We can rely on his. He’s our guy.”
Wade is not the force of nature who led the NBA in scoring at 30.2 points per game in 2008-09 or the guy who helped Miami come back from a 2-0 series deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals by fearlessly flying through the lane and averaging almost 11 free-throw attempts per game in the postseason.
But he’s definitely ramped up his game for the conference finals rematch with Indiana. He’s tied with LeBron James for the team scoring lead, averaging 24.3 points per game in the three games thus far, shooting a team-high 62 percent from the floor while averaging 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
He’s been good enough that even when James is battling cramps, he doesn’t want to miss anything.
Wade replaced James with 5.7 seconds left in the third quarter and immediately hit a 3-pointer to give the Heat a seven-point advantage.
“I wasn’t going to leave until I seen what he was going to do,” James said about delaying a trip to the dressing room for treatment of a cramping hamstring.
When the guy generally acknowledged as the best player on the planet doesn’t want to get medical treatment until he sees what you can do, suffice it to say you’re a pretty special player who rises to big occasions.
But after three championship rings, 719 regular season games and 144 more postseason contests, Dwyane Wade just knows how to do that, even after spending a third of this season delicately packed in bubble wrap.
It was because the Heat knew they would need vintage Dwyane Wade at some point in their attempt to become the first team to reach four consecutive NBA Finals since the Los Angeles Lakers from 1982-85.
Just ask the Indiana Pacers. They’ll tell you that Flash is alive and well, putting them in a 2-1 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.